Thursday, 1 March 2012

As a wise frog once said, “It's not that easy being green”. Nonetheless, these days it’s a prerequisite. We asked a theatre producer, a BBC production manager, and a live artist, each of whom place sustainability at the heart of their work, for tips on ensuring your arts project or event keeps carbon emissions to a minimum...

Start with sustainability
“If you were building a house and you wanted it to be as environmentally friendly as possible, you wouldn’t wait until the decorators came in,” says BBC Sustainable Production Manager, Richard Smith. “You’d want to be having the conversation with the architects right at the beginning.” Likewise, if you want to ensure your exhibition, short film, or theatre production is low impact, you need to begin thinking like an eco warrior from the get go. Use an online carbon calculator, such as Albert, to figure out which areas of your project will cause the most emissions, and modify your plans accordingly.

Winning minds through art
Giving your arts project an environmental theme can get your audience thinking about their own behavior, but be clever in how you go about this. “Capture people’s imaginations in order to get them creatively excited, rather than preaching to them,” says theatre producer Sophie Larsmon. “Engage them on an intellectual level.” Sophie’s Ideas Fund Green-winning production 3rd Ring Out, a simulation set in 2033, did this by getting the audience to take a vote on various possible courses of action within the narrative – some with dire consequences. “That’s effective because people have to take personal responsibility for their choices and they feel like they can have an impact, but these are fictional scenarios, so they can also learn from their mistakes.” Create a space, be it physical or virtual, for people to discuss the issues raised by your piece afterwards. After all, this is one conversation that isn’t going to disappear any time soon. “All across the world people are waking up to this,” says Richard Smith. “There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose.”

Cultivate your inner scavenger
Plato called necessity “the mother of invention” and he wasn’t exactly short of bright ideas, so why not set yourself the creative challenge of using only borrowed, salvaged or second hand materials? “For a performance I did last year I sourced an entire heap of furniture for free from Freecycle,” says Helen Galliano of performance installation company Arbonauts. “It’s good for found objects which you can use in set design or sculpture.” According to Helen, much of what you need may be right in front of you – you just have to know where to look. “It’s a case of keeping your eyes open to what there is in your neighbourhood,” she says. “Skip diving is definitely a biggie – we’ve got some real gems from there.”

It’s not just where you go, but how you get there
When booking a venue for your film screening, art show or gig, politely request a copy of their environmental policy. If they don’t have one, ask why. As Richard Smith says: “It doesn’t matter whether that’s the National Gallery or a local studio on the high street; if people don’t ask these questions then there’s no impetus for organisations to change.” If you’re running an event, consider how people will get there. According to Julie’s Bicycle, “Audience travel is the single greatest contributor to the carbon footprint of the arts.” Make like Radiohead and encourage punters to leave their vehicles at home by picking venues accessible by bike or public transport. Written on the event page for the band’s 2008 Victoria Park gig was the following: “There are no parking spaces at all in the immediate vicinity of Victoria Park, so please don't bring your car.”

And now for some useful resources…

A Greener Festival 
Information on how music and arts festivals can improve their environmental efficiency.

Whether you’re a student or professional, you can apply to BAFTA for a free login to Albert, the online carbon calculator for the film and television industry.

Keep down travel costs and CO2 emissions by finding crew locally through this network of film and TV professionals when shooting on location instead of taking people along with you.

A network that links up people who are chucking stuff out with people who are looking for free stuff. Great for props, furniture and other random bits and bobs.

Julie’s Bicycle 
Julie’s Bicycle supports arts organisations to work more sustainably. Their website is an eco treasure trove of fact sheets, guides and resources.

This article originally appeared on IdeasMag.

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